Mining for Rule 5 Talent
The Major League Baseball Rule 5 draft will soon be upon us and it continues to be one of the more popular Internet features of the off-season. Even so, the draft rarely has a profound effect on the majors, save for the occasional Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton and Johan Santana picks.
Major League Baseball has neutered the draft to a degree, with the new rules that came into effect before the 2006 Rule 5 draft, which allowed teams an extra year to develop their minor league players before having to make the decision to add them to the protected 40-man roster or risk losing them for a $50,000 fee (assuming the team ‘stealing’ the player keeps them in the major leagues for the entire season). Players chosen, though, can be stashed on the disabled list for a portion of the season or be sent on minor league rehab, as long as they are on the 25-man roster for a minimum of 90 days.
If a team chooses not to retain the draft pick for the entire season, the club must pass that player through waivers and, if another club does not claim that player, he is then offered back to his original club for $25,000.
The new regulations state that a player who was signed at the age of 19 or older must be added to the 40-man roster after four minor league seasons (formerly three) or they are subject to the draft. Those players who were signed while younger than 19 (mostly high school draft picks and Latin signees) must be added after five minor league seasons.
In truth, most impact high school draft picks and Latin players are in the majors within four or five years of development so they are already on the 40-man roster, and the same can be said for college draft picks after four years. Regardless, there are still a few players who have fallen through the cracks and last year’s draft saw a whopping 19 players selected. There are also Triple-A and Double-A minor league versions of the Rule 5 draft but those are usually used to fill out holes in the minor league rosters, although Toronto lost a couple prospects in recent years who have some potential: pitcher Dewon Day who is now with the White Sox and second baseman Eugenio Velez who is now with the Giants. Velez is interesting in part because he was formerly known as Eugenio Vancamper but was found to be using a fake name and age during the crackdown on visas a few years go.
Now, on to some interesting names available in the upcoming Rule 5 draft on Dec. 6:
Justin Hedrick RHP
Right-hander Justin Hedrick was a sixth round selection out of Northeastern University in 2004 by the Giants. He first made noise in the 2003 Cape Cod League and led the league with 68 strikeouts in 60 innings, while going 3-2, 1.96. Moved to the bullpen in pro ball, Hedrick has posted solid numbers along the way with an 88-92 mph fastball and a good slider that has two-plane depth.
Stuart Pomeranz RHP
The Cardinals have taken a risk by leaving former second round draft pick Stuart Pomeranz unprotected. The former prep star missed a good portion of the 2007 season after surgery on his labrum, but he had a solid, albeit unspectacular, Arizona Fall League. In 14 innings, he walked five and struck out only three, showing his stuff is probably not all the way back. But, you have to be impressed, if that is the case, that he was able to post a 0.64 ERA and allow only nine hits. At 6-foot-7, Pomeranz has a great pitcher’s body and he can be safely stashed on the disabled list for the first part of the year, as long as he is active for the final 90 days.
Dusty Hughes LHP
Left-handers are always a popular commodity in the Rule 5 draft so expect Kansas City’s Dusty Hughes to get some consideration. On the negative side, the former Delta State University hurler is short at only 5-foot-9 and battled injuries the last two seasons. But he survived pitching in tough parks in his pro career and did very well in the lower minors. He has a 3.26 career minor league ERA and has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched despite spending time in Wichita and High Desert. After the regular season, Hughes started six games in the Arizona Fall League and allowed only 16 hits in 22 innings with a 2.47 ERA. For a team desperate for pitching, it wasn’t smart of Kansas City to risk losing Hughes. Oh, did I mention he took home the award as the top pitcher in the Arizona Fall League?
Shane Lindsay RHP
Shane Lindsay, a former top pitching prospect of the Rockies before getting hurt, missed all of the regular season recovering from shoulder surgery. However, he pitched 18 innings in the Hawaiian baseball league and allowed only 11 hits and struck out 19. Unfortunately, he also had a 5.50 ERA, 16 walks allowed and his groundout-to-flyout ratio was 0.32. However, this may be the only opportunity teams will have to get their hands on Lindsay so they may take a flyer on him and see how he looks in spring training. In his career, Lindsay has struck out 13.72 batters per nine innings.
Tug Hulett 2B/3B/SS
Former Auburn University player Tug Hulett is the son of former big leaguer Tim Hulett Sr., who spent most of his time with the White Sox and Orioles. A good bet as a utility player, Hulett has average speed and is an average athlete. However, he is an on-base machine who has always produced a solid average and could be attractive to a team like Toronto, Oakland or even St. Louis. He topped 90 walks in a minor league season in both 2005 and 2006 and spent all of 2007 playing respectable ball in Triple-A.
James D’Antona 3B/1B/C
James D’Antona is a former second round pick of Arizona out of Wake Forest University. He had an OK year in Triple-A in 2007 and has always had intriguing power. D’Antona hit only 13 homers this season but added 43 doubles. He lacks a true position but he can play third base, first base and catcher. He has the potential to be a potent bench player. D’Antona doesn’t strike out as much as most power hitters and will also take a walk.
Aaron Mathews OF
Mathews was drafted out of Oregon State and fell to the Jays in the 19th round in 2004 draft because of his size (5-9) and the fact many scouts saw him as a ‘tweener’ (not enough range to play centerfield regularly and not enough power for a regular corner spot). But Mathews, who is a high-energy player in the Aaron Rowand mold, showed this season that he can hit and batted more than .300 for much of the season before tiring late in the year and falling to .293.
David Smith OF
Smith can also handle all three outfield spots on a regular basis although he has much more power than Mathews. Smith, who has hit 43 homers the past two seasons, made some adjustments to his approach this season at the behest of Toronto coaches and his game improved significantly, although caution must be taken as it was his second go-around in Double-A at the age of 26. His power potential just might be worth the $50,000 gamble, though.
Chris Lubanski OF
Chris Lubanski was one of Kansas City’s top prospects just two years ago but has fallen out of favor and the club is gambling that he is too far away from being major league ready to stick on a MLB roster all year. The former fifth overall pick out high school hit only .208 in 168 Triple-A at-bats and it is hard to get a true read on his success at High A-Ball and Double-A because both those clubs play in extreme hitter’s parks. His tools might entice a club like Washington.
Brian Barton OF
Brian Barton was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of college by Cleveland and has done nothing but hit as a pro, with a career line of .316/.416/.473. That said, he could develop into a ‘tweener,’ like Mathews but he could also serve as a very cheap and productive fourth outfield option for someone in 2008. Although he did not play for the Cleveland organization in 2004, he did sign his first pro contract then, which makes him eligible for the draft.
Chances are that some players will be taken on Thursday that no one saw coming, as teams employ a bevy of scouts for just this type of occasion. One of the most interesting things about the Rule 5 draft is that it is so unpredictable and you never know when your club might find (or lose) the next Johan Santana.